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Dan Rackley

Dan Rackley is a US Naval veteran living in Philadelphia and a contributor to "Will They Ever Trust Us Again?"

September 10th, 2012 8:31 AM

9/11 From One Sailor's Perspective

I’m no hero.  I’m not by any means what one could call a major player in the events that unfolded on September 11, 2001.  Like anybody that was in the military at the time of the attacks, I was merely a cog in a machine.  I was nowhere near the towers that day.  But I remember being scared out of my mind all the same.  I’d imagine that very few that are reading this right now are probably wondering what Dan Rackley was doing on 9/11, however this one isn’t for you.  I’ve written about a lot of issues and a great deal of causes in the past couple of years.  This one is for me and all the others who were cogs in a machine on 9/11.  I’m not going to get political, I’m not going to lay blame to anyone in the government.  I am just going to say what happened.

The USS Bataan was in the middle of a pre deployment stand down on 9/11.  Simply put, half the ship was home on leave.  We were going to be going on what was later referred to a Disneyland cruise on the 19th.  It was scheduled to be one of those deployments that was going to be equal portion sightseeing trip and military exercise.

Wanting to save up my leave time for another occasion, I opted to stay in Virginia during the stand down.  We’d be on a lighter than normal schedule anyway so it didn’t seem like that big a deal to just stay in Virginia.  I’d recently reconnected with my father after several years of not speaking and since he lived a mere four hours away(closer to six or seven by Greyhound) my plan was to take a bus down that Friday, return the following Monday to leave for the deployment Tuesday morning.  Both my father and my stepfather had served in the Air Force, so I knew quite well the importance of spending time with somebody close before shipping out.

Taking a superior’s advice, I filled out a liberty form that would allow me to have those days off without issue.  He seemed to be quite pleased that I had some member of the family I would get to spend time with and assured me that he would push the request up the chain of command and have the presumptive approval back to me by the time we knocked off that day.  This was at about seven in the morning.

It had to have been shortly after the first plane hit the World Trade Center that I walked into the same office that I had been in just an hour or so earlier.  I was likely looking for something innocuous when I see what felt like half my division sitting around this small black and white TV.  At first I had no idea what the hell was going on.  Nobody sat around like that one a workday, even one as lax as a pre deployment stand down day.  When someone told me that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, like many others not in New York I remember thinking that it was a Cessna or something like that.   Just a few moments later, we all watched in complete horror as the second plane hit.  Then came the reports from the Pentagon, then Shanksville.  Needless to say I completely forgot about that liberty request.

The lump in my throat was probably bigger than a basketball.  How the hell could this have happened?  It all seems easy to digest now when you have the events of the day packaged on several different cable channels with accounts of the attacks from varying angles.  When you’re barely out of your teens, from a small town in Michigan things like the scope of the 9/11 attacks is something almost impossible to comprehend.  I didn’t even know who Osama Bin Laden was until somebody had told me later in the day.

While what happened over the rest of the rest of the day is a blur I seem to remember a great deal of given the circumstances.  I remember going from a lazy, nothing workday to us getting the ship to be underway by the end of the day with less than half the crew.  People were rushing in that lived in the area and coming back from leave.  Most of the folks on leave at the time we wouldn’t get back on board until we pulled back in several days later.

I remember being scared out of my mind.  When you stood outside and saw the commercial planes flying into the nearest airport, they would fly right over where we were docked.  Every time I saw one I thought to myself, “what if this is one of them too?”

The worst part was later in the evening.  We were about forty five minutes or so from pulling out of port and an officer gave us what sounded like a pep talk before a big sporting event .  At the end of the speech, he told us anyone that wanted to call home to tell their family that they were alright could be given the chance to do so.  I remember dialing the number of one relative to no answer.  After about the second or third try I finally got a hold of someone.  I remember not being able to tell them much, only offer vague references to what had happened in New York.  It was one of the first times in my life I felt myself to be in true danger.  It was just as scary to not be able to talk about it.

This was eleven years ago.  I’m a little older now.  I’ve got a wife and a son that I love more than anything in the world.  Still, whenever something comes on television about the attacks, for a moment I become that scared kid all over again.  I guess what I’m trying to say is, sometimes there are more important things in this world than Mitt Romney’s taxes or whether Obama’s birth certificate was conjured up at a Staples.  When you’re done reading this, go and tell your family how much you care about them.  At the very least, it’s something that thousands of people never really got the chance to do.

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